Need A Small, Cheap Ammeter? Blinkenlights To The Rescue!

You know how it is. You’ve got that new project running, and while it doesn’t consume much power, it also doesn’t give much indication of whether it’s functioning or just sitting there with a dead battery. What you need is an ammeter to check power consumption, even from across the room. And it just so happens that [Manuka] has Just The Circuit You Need, complete with a demonstration in the video after the break!

Oh sure, you could grab a cheap ammeter at your favorite tool import store or site, but those are bulky and take batteries. You could put in an LED that gets dimmer as voltage drops. But wait- is that the sun shining on it? or is it on? Or has something gone awry and it’s consuming too much power?

What [Manuka] gives us is a circuit that is designed to be built into your project or project’s power supply. Using only an ultra-bright white LED, red blinking LED, PNP transistor, and a diode, the circuit gives a strong visual indication of current consumption by blinking brighter and more frequently as current increases. With a bit of calibration, accurate measurements can be obtained. All of this is made possible by using the Flashing LED as a driver for the ultra-bright LED, which is a pretty slick hack!

Flashing LEDs have a great number of uses, like protecting your family from lions. Yes, really. Got a cool tip for flashing LEDs, blinkenlights, 555’s, or any odd thing that strikes your hackers fancy? Let the tip line know!

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the 3 needle ammeters that make up the face of the clock

IC Clock Uses Ammeters For A Unique Time-Telling Display

It is a rite of passage for hackers to make a clock out of traditionally not-clock items. Whether it be blinking LEDs or servos to move the hands, we have all crafted our own ways of knowing when it currently is. [SIrawit] takes a new approach to this, by using ammeters to tell the time.

The clock is built using mostly CMOS ICs. A CD4060 generates the 1HZ clock signal, which is then passed to parallel counters to keep track of the hours, minutes, and seconds. [SIrawit] decided to keep the ammeters functioning as intended, rather than replacing the internals and just keeping the needle and face. To convert the digital signal to a varying current, he used a series of MOSFETs connected in parallel to the low side of the ammeters, with different sizes of current-limiting resistors. By sizing these resistors properly, precise movement of the needle could be achieved by turning on or off the MOSFETs. You can see the schematics and learn more about how this is achieved on the project’s GitHub page (at the time of writing, the most recent commits are in the ‘pcb’ branch).

In addition to the custom PCB that holds all the electronics, PCBs help make up the case as well. While the main body of the case is made out of a repurposed junction box, [SIrawit] had a PCB on an aluminum substrate manufactured for the front panel. While the board has no actual traces or electrical significance, this makes for a cheap and easy way to get a precisely cut piece of aluminum for your projects, with a sharp-looking white solder mask to boot.

We love to see cool and unique ways to tell the time, such as using Nixie Tubes to spell out the time in binary!

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Textmeter Tells Its Tale

One time-proven method to make a lesson memorable is to make it a story, but that is not easy if your core material is the repair log of a rotted out analog ammeter. Most folks don’t need a 300A meter on their drill press, so [Build Comics] converted it to a text display and describes the procedure like they are writing a comic book. He is using HDLO-3416 LED cluster arrays for that dated-but-legible industrial feel, and everything looks right at home in a box made from oak and steel. Even the USB cord even gets a facelift by running it inside a fabric shoelace. In our own lives, covering charging cables is a hack on its own because we don’t want to fumble with the wrong charger when it is time to sleep or drive. Glow-in-the-dark cord upgrades, anyone?

We don’t have a pre-operation picture of the subject, but the innards suggest that it comes from the bottom of an industrial scrap pile. There is a cross-hatch pattern on the front plate, which hinted at 3D printing, but if you look closely at the early images, you can see that it is original. There is a nodeMCU board to fetch the date information and control the four alphanumeric displays. Except for the red lights, all the new hardware hides behind wood or steel, so this old workhorse’s aesthetic lives on and has a story to share that is a delight to read.

If you enjoy reading [Build Comics] and their adventurous recollections, we forecast you’ll enjoy this weather display, or maybe it is time to check out their clock, but we want to plant the seed of literary build logs.

Joulescope DC Energy Analyzer Reviewed

[VoltLog] got a hold of a prerelease unit of Joulescope — a DC energy analyzer that promises to make it easy to optimize power and energy usage of your electronic designs. You can find his review in the video below. The device is a very fast ammeter and voltmeter. Given that, it is easy to compute energy and, over time, power.

The device is set to retail for about $400 according to a letter in the video, although the website mentions closer to $800. Both of those seem to be a bit much for a piece of specialty gear that is really just a fast analog to digital converter and some software. To be fair, the device can read ranges between 18 microamps to 10 amps with resolutions as low as 1.5 nanoamps on the lower side of the range. Is it worth it? That will depend on your application and your price sensitivity.

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A Very Accurate Current Probe

There’s many different ways of measuring current. If it’s DC, the easiest way is to use a shunt resistor and measure the voltage across it, and for AC you could use a current transformer. But the advent of the Hall-effect sensor has provided us a much better way of measuring currents. Hall sensors offers several advantages over shunts and CT’s – accuracy, linearity, low temperature drift, wider frequency bandwidth, and low insertion loss (burden) being some of them. On the flip side, they usually require a (dual) power supply, an amplification circuit, and the ability to be “zero adjusted” to null output voltage offsets.

[Daniel Mendes] needed to measure some fairly high currents, and borrowed a clip-on style AC-DC current probe to do some initial measurements for his project. Such clip on current probes are usually lower in accuracy and require output DC offset adjustments. To overcome these limitations, he then built himself an invasive hall sensor current probe to obtain better measurement accuracy (Google Translated from Portugese). His device can measure current up to 50 A with a bandwidth stretching from DC to 200 kHz. The heart of his probe is the LAH-50P hall effect current transducer from LEM – which specialises in just such devices. The 25 mV/A signal from the transducer is buffered by an OPA188 op-amp which provides a low output impedance to allow interfacing it with an oscilloscope. The op-amp also adds a x2 gain to provide an output of 50 mV/A. The other critical part of the circuit are the high tolerance shunt resistors connected across the output of the LAH-50P transducer.

The rest of his design is what appears to be a pretty convoluted power supply section. [Daniel] wanted to power his current probe with a 5V input derived from the USB socket on his oscilloscope. This required the use of a 5 V to 24 V boost switching regulator – with two modules being used in parallel to provide the desired output power. A pair of linear regulators then drop down this voltage to +15 / -15 V required for the trasducer and op-amp. His blog post does not have the board layout, but the pictures of the PCB should be enough for someone wanting to build their own version of this current sensor.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Smart USB Hub And IoT Power Meter

[Aleksejs Mirnijs] needed a tool to accurately measure the power consumption of his Raspberry Pi and Arduino projects, which is an important parameter for dimensioning adequate power supplies and battery packs. Since most SBC projects require a USB hub anyway, he designed a smart, WiFi-enabled 4-port USB hub that is also a power meter – his entry for this year’s Hackaday Prize.

[Aleksejs’s] design is based on the FE1.1s 4-port USB 2.0 hub controller, with two additional ports for charging. Each port features an LT6106 current sensor and a power MOSFET to individually switch devices on and off as required. An Atmega32L monitors the bus voltage and current draw, switches the ports and talks to an ESP8266 module for WiFi connectivity. The supercharged hub also features a display, which lets you read the measured current and power consumption at a glance.

Unlike most cheap hubs out there, [Aleksejs’s] hub has a properly designed power path. If an external power supply is present, an onboard buck converter actively regulates the bus voltage while a power path controller safely disconnects the host’s power line. Although the first prototype is are already up and running, this project is still under heavy development. We’re curious to see the announced updates, which include a 2.2″ touchscreen and a 3D-printable enclosure.

Need A Nano-Ammeter? You Already Have One!

[Dannyelectronics] sometimes needs to measure tiny currents. Really tiny, like leakage currents through a capacitor. He’s built a few setups to make the measurements, but he also knew he’d sometimes want to take readings when he didn’t have his custom gear available. So he decided to see what he could do with an ordinary digital meter.

dmm-nano-ammeterAs you might expect, a common digital meter’s current scales aren’t usually up to measuring nano- or pico-amps. [Danny’s] approach was not to use the ammeter scale. Instead, he measures the voltage developed across the input impedance of the meter (which is usually very high, like one megaohm). If you know the input characteristics of the meter (or can calibrate against a known source), you can convert the voltage to a current.

For example, on a Fluke 115 meter, [Danny] found that he could read up to 60nA with a resolution of 0.01nA. A Viktor 81D could resolve down to 2.5pA–a minuscule current indeed.

We’ve looked at the difficulties involved in reading small currents before. If tiny currents aren’t your thing, maybe you’d like to try charging an iPhone with 3 KA, instead.